What a year for moss it's been (not Kate, the green fuzzy stuff!). I seem to have so much I wondered if my opencast truffle mines were dug by alligator snouts, not pigs! Combined with dark algae it had made our concrete paths quite slippery.
I bought some anti-mousse stuff but it needs a longish dry period for it to work, which have been in short supply recently! So I got out the Karcher and pressure-washed all the pavements - it took most of yesterday!
Peter and I cutting down a large, old and ailing cherry tree occupied most of today; it had lost most of its branches in the drought last summer. I wished I were into woodturning; some of the chunks of cherry wood had interesting grain patterns. I also pruned my grapevine on the pergola; the best advice I could find on the 'net was that I should have done it in December, and that I should cut new growth laterals to two buds, since grapes grow on last-years growth.
Peter used the leaf-blower to get rid of some of the leaves. I suspect that the neighbours must be confused by these Brits who seem to work during lunch hour and who use noisy chain saws and leaf blowers on a Sabbath, instead of eating themselves into a stupor and sleeping all afternoon like in real life!
I've been looking out for a cheap generator for some time; I knew Auchan had some cheap 2KW gennies for sale and wondered whether they might have been marked down in the sales. Yesterday I scoured Auchan for the things, couldn't find one. In the checkout queue I spotted a chap with one on his trolley, marked as 50% off, so I went and asked him where he found it. "Il n'y en a plus" he replied - he'd found the last one. Drat, drat and double drat!
Simmering because of this I thought of the ones I'd seen in Leclerc's Brico store - maybe they'd be discounted? So I went there and they were on sale at 20% off. So I bit the bullet and bought one; better a gennie in the hand than one in someone else's trolley!
I played with it this afternoon; it happily powered a 1600W paint stripper and a 500W floodlight used as a test load. The little 6.5 HP single-cylinder OHV 4-stroke engine is relatively quiet, it has a 13 litre fuel tank and uses between 0.5 and 1.5 litres of fuel per hour, depending on the load.
Tomorrow I'll make up a lead to connect it into the house system - I made provision for this in my recent rewiring. I'll store it in the sous-sol and put it just outside in the event of mains failure.
I've a feeling that my purchase has guaranteed the integrity of the mains supply for the foreseeable future!
I'd earned enough points on my BouygueTel contract to get a new phone, and, since Xine's UK phone hasn't worked at all well since I dropped it down the loo, I thought I could let her have my old one. Mistake! The new one has all sorts of Things on it, like I-mode, MMS and GPRS, and a camera. Loads of iCan't-Think-Why-Anyone-Should-Need-It thingies! Of course I had to charge the battery before I could play. When I switched it on, I had the choice between email/MMS and I-mode, neither of which I wanted.
It took me some time to find out how to make a simple telephone call. Then some further time to find out how to answer a simple incoming telephone call. Then I found that I'd been saving all my numbers on the old phone, not on the SIM. With the new phone, you can copy all the numbers on the SIM to the phone and vice versa - but not on the old phone. So I had to spend much time typing in the numbers from the old phone into the old SIM but on the new phone.
So I tried the camera. Nowhere in the French instructions did it tell me which button to press to take a photo. So I found the phone manufacturer's website and downloaded an English manual. It wasn't in there either. I found it eventually, by trial and error.
It's a very neat, little clamshell phone. But why does it take so long to work out how to use it? I'm sure there's a market for idiot phones with big buttons that can be prodded with a walking stick by irascible old men and survive! Oh, and the old Bouygue phone won't work with a Virgin SIM card - it needs unblocking! Somehow!
Typical of a slow-moving winter anticyclone - loads of fog and frost, until it finally cleared up today and has been gorgeous.
Because our landscape has the two big valleys; the Lot and the Garonne valleys, plus lots of "tributary valleys", we can get the situation where the valleys are full of fog, or the hills are in "elevated fog" (= cloud), or even mixtures of each effect, so you can go from fog to blazing sun and back again. I thought of Australia today; in particular of the red gum chips they used for mulching - a terrific labour saver as well, over weed proof membrane they kept the sun off and turned from red to an attractive silvery grey. Unfortunately those evil-looking magpie-ravens would come and throw them all over the place, making that horrid screeching as they did so. Low and behold I've got the same problem here, where the neighbour's chooks are throwing my écorcées de pin all over the place. So I've put a low wire fence to keep them out. I bet the blighters will jump over it!
I've never had a cholesterol problem, but have had high levels of triglycerides for a long time. Triglycerides are another blood fat and are associated with arteriosclerosis. Now I knew that they are synthesised by the body from sugars and alcohol. I take almost no sugar, so guess what I assumed was the cause! Boozer's guilt complex! My last blood test was disappointing as it followed a month's abstinence from booze but the triglyceride level, though reduced, was still above the acceptable limit, despite being on lipid-reducing statins. However last year my médecin told me that carbohydrates also played a major role in the production of triglycerides, so I put myself on a low carbohydrate régime; I lost 11Kg which was good for the hypertension and enabled me to wear several old pairs of trousers! The régime was basically cutting out bread at lunchtime, so instead of a sandwich we had a salad with charcuterie, etc., and cutting down on bread and other stodge at dinnertime. I haven't given it up totally; it would be dreadful to deprive oneself of yummy French bread, just removed it as a staple component. Anyway, it seems to have worked!
Acceptable levels: 0.6 to 1.65 g/l
Level July 04: 3.88
Level March 06: 2.67
Level Feb 07: 1.28
The Daily Getelarph wasn't available in Villeneuve sur Lot on Saturday so, faced with a choice between the New York Herald Tribune and the international edition of the Daily Snail, I bought the latter. Doh! I made sure that it was well hidden inside my Sud-Ouest; it's bad enough being taken for a Brit, but an uncultured Brit to boot would be beyond the pale!
There was a European forecast, though, and I was surprised to find Tom Utley writing there; I enjoy his sensitive writing - presumably the Snail pays more than the Tellywag? I did enjoy the section on Malapropisms, though. They had the topical Jade Goody quotes "I'm being treated as an escape goat", but what I found interesting was where the Snail editorial staff thought that their reader base required assistance. For instance, the couple who had been "co-rabbitting for years" or the girl advised to practise birth control who asked her boyfriend to wear a "condominium". These were not judged as requiring an explanation, whereas "You're behaving like a complete cycle path" and "the priest called in to circumcise a ghost" required the readership to be gently pointed towards "psychopath" and "exorcise". Ah well, I wonder if it burns well?
Our trip to Toulouse was as a recce for a visit to be made by my “Engineers of South West France” group in May; so a fair time was spent in discussion. Christine and I went with Michael and Shirley Collishaw; Michael is a member of LVeF too.
Our day was very lucky for the weather, a pleasant sunny day sandwiched by two periods of foul, wet and windy weather. Warm enough, in fact to have lunch outside in the Place Wilson.
That morning we talked to the Bureau de Tourisme, then walked to the St Sernin Romanesque basilica; a building almost an incredible 1000 years old but quite beautiful with its pink brick and stone. As engineers, of course we couldn't resist commenting on the adverse side
thrust from the Roman arches which was so effectively removed with the Norman arch.
After lunch we visited the Museum of the Resistance and Deportation; interesting but a testament to man's inhumanity to man.
From what I saw of the "ville rose" I quite liked it, there were lots of shops, but they were full of uninteresting things like clothes and shoes; I didn't see any bricolage places or tool shops at all!
I went down to LeClerc Brico Bati Jardi today and bought a large quantity of laine du verre to further insulate the grenier. I bought the stuff with a kraft paper backing on one side and a sort of polypropylene mesh on the other, so it's a bit more comfortable to lay. The rolls were tightly wrapped and compressed and quite heavy; I've used them before and when you cut the polythene wrapper the stuff unrolls with a hiss and the 1 cm or less of épaisseur becomes 200mm to add to the 75 mm or so already up in the loft.
Yet another use for the trailer, and a pleasant purchase with a jovial chap on the fork-lift truck who dropped the rolls into the trailer. Some time later I set off with loads of rope, round turns and half-hitches securing the purchase, nevertheless I needed to stop and tighten all the ropes as the fibreglass mountain on the trailer started to shift at roundabouts.
This afternoon was spent loading the rolls up into the grenier prior to installation, moving junk and replacing a cracked tile. I might get round to laying some of the stuff tomorrow. Thinks - does the heat required to melt and spin the glass fibre from recycled glass outweigh the fuel saving?
Maybe I should have used sheep's wool insulation?
Baaa humbug! The moths would eat it!
Well I've finished my purgatory in the grenier and the house is now tucked up in its nice warm fibreglass (fiberglass for Amy) blanket. This picture shows a peek into the grenier and the edge of the isolation compared with a standard measure, a bottle of Buzet Mouflons Label 1998, which was consumed later in celebration and after a thorough shower.
Down in the sous-sol the boiler is sulking with nothing to do!
Well, I read all the Internet advice on planting olive trees which inevitably was contradictory. The best one was from an olive grower in Umbria who said that they'd had -10°C this winter and the olives survived, whereas in 1985 they had -28°C and most of them died. The best soil was reckoned to be well-drained argilo-calcaire, which is what I've got. So I lashed out 49€ on a tree that I could just get into the Yaris with me driving along peering through the olive branches spread across the windscreen. This afternoon I planted it with 120 litres of terreau and a sturdy stake.
It looks quite at home. I do hope it survives!
So the idea was to drift from place to place, from hacienda to bodega, without planning, doing whatever came to mind. Even the worst-laid plans o' mice and men gang aft agley! We set off on Wednesday 7th, amidst glowering skies and frequent showers, or with the more precise French, "ondées" rather than "averses". We had an uneventful, if wet, trip to St Jean Pied de Port. I cast around for a place to lay our heads and Xine spotted the Hotel des Pyrénées, an unassuming, but comfortable-looking establishment. I gulped at the price, but it was a place to lay our heads on a miserable day and have a crust to eat. We had a look around the town; a pretty and interesting place, even in the rain.
Next day we drove off in seemingly rather better weather to attack the Roncevalles Pass over the Pyrénées to Pamplona. Towards the top the rain increased, then changed to ice, then snow and “Cerise” the Toyota Yaris was hard pushed to keep a modicum of grip in the slush to haul herself over the summit.
Once over the top of the pass, instead of being warmer and sunnier it was colder and snowier; we picked our way gingerly around stalled lorries and hairpin bends. At last we descended into the rain, rather than snow, and drove into Pamplona, which was where I first found that my 1999 Michelin map was out of date, that the Spanish do not believe in direction signs and that I really, really wish that I had a sat-nav system. But eventually we found our way out on to the Pamplona/Logroño road, which had magically been transformed into an Autovia in the intervening 8 years. We found the hotel we were looking for, another Relais & Chateaux palace called the El Peregrino. This cost two arms and three legs, but, what the hell, it's only money and it's hissing down with rain and really miserable and we really deserve a treat! The room we had was wonderful, with a Grecian tapestry bed-head and rampant cornices thrusting out from above the tapestry.
With not much of the day left we decided to look at the next town, Estella, instead of girding up our loins to tackle Pamplona. Mistake! A depressing, seedy, town, full of grotty bars full of smoke and Spanish football yobbos. Bought a couple of sandwiches in a hipermercado, then returned to our hotel, where we read our books until dinner - which, as is the custom, didn't start until 20:30. But it was worth waiting for; beautiful food, immaculately presented and impeccably served, washed down with a very nice Rioja crianza.
Next day we got off to a good start with a breakfast that was served, rather than self-served from a buffet. Pamplona was just a short journey along the new autovia and we found a convenient and spacious underground car park almost immediately. We wandered around, took in the renaissance buildings and the cathedral with its famous cloisters, found a café and had a pleasant and inexpensive lunch with the locals.
We decided that we liked Pamplona.
Emerging from the underground car park like a moth from a chrysalis, Cerise decided to emphasise the non-availability of Sat-nav by getting us completely lost. We started on the south side of this city of 250,000 inhabitants, needing to go South; instead we somehow went North until we ran out of city, then South again, then North and ended up where we started. Time and time again promising road signs saying "Logroño" were spotted, only to disappear at the next roundabout. Finally we escaped the city's clutches and read our fast-disappearing books until yet another gourmet dinner.
Next day was my birthday, and time to move on to Haro, capital of Rioja. Having got used to a standard to which we would like to be accustomed, we were aiming at the Los Augustinos hotel. Yet another town to grapple with, but eventually we found the hotel and a parking place. Disaster! The hotel was "completo" - the receptionist directed us to another hotel, the hotel Luz at the other end of town. Not a flea-pit by any means, but definitely a come-down! We walked around Haro - not impressed; a few interesting buildings, but a lot of seedy bars and miserable people. We found one of the least daunting of the seedy bars and had a small beer and a sandwich. Then I tried to find the local wine museum using a local tourist map, failed miserably and decided either the map was wrong or I had become temporarily insane. So back to the hotel to read our books until dinnertime at 21:00, which comprised a disgusting load of tasteless stodge. It was lovely to have my Christine with me to keep my spirits up on an otherwise difficult day.
Well, I'd booked two days, so was determined to see it through. After a very contrasting buffet breakfast we took off to the Balcon de la Rioja, an 1100m cliff overlooking the Rioja valley with the snow-capped peaks of Cantabria in the distance. This was a wonderful drive, through the vineyards, then up a very steep slope and a tremendous view and a very scenic drive over to Vitoria. We took the autovia down to Miranda and then back to Haro.
Lunch was in a tapas bar in central Haro, which was very pleasant; pub atmosphere, good food and some very pleasant crianza Rioja tinto to wash it down. Egyptian PT that afternoon before dinner, which was in a restaurant in old Haro; pleasant food washed down by a very nice bottle of reserva Alto Rioja and a lovely atmosphere that bucked us up no end. However we decided that we didn't really want to continue with our little holiday; after the Peregrino any hotel would be an anticlimax and our idea of wandering from one bucolic village to another wasn't on; each change demanded yet another fight with another Spanish urban traffic systems. So we came home, which was a very nice contrast, as, indeed are the ends of the relatively short journey from Rioja to the Lot & Garonne which emphasises how the Pyrénées and the Basques have kept the two cultures quite separate, even in these times of easy communication between the two. Out of inexperience we probably made lots of mistakes. We've only been to Northern Spain once before, travelling by caravan through Soria and Saragosa to Tarragona and Barcelona, and we didn't really feel comfortable there even then. Maybe more south would be better - or should we aim at Italy, which we love, if we were to insist on leaving our beloved France?
This joke appeared just as we were buying our Audi Quattro!
Five Englishmen in an Audi Quattro arrive at the Italian border.
The Italian customs agent stops them and tells them: "Itsa illegal to putta fiva people inna Quattro."
"What do you mean it's illegal?" asked the Englishmen.
"Quattro means four," replies the Italian official.
"Quattro is just the name of the automobile," the Englishmen retort disbelievingly.
"Look at the papers: this car is designed to carry five people."
"You can'ta pulla thata one ona me," replies the Italian customs agent.
"Quattro means four. You hava fiva people ina your car and you are therefore breakin'a the law".
The Englishmen reply angrily, "You idiot! Call your supervisor over - we want to speak to someone with more intelligence!"
"Sorry," responds the Italian official, "He can'ta come. He'sa busy with two guys in a Fiat Uno."
First it was four-legged porcine excavators and open-cast truffle mines, now it's chooks!
Our voisin fou has now decided to raise a flock of poules on a patch little bigger than a suburban garden. This is the latest of a string of projects that has included pigs, goats and sheep. So that they get enough scratching space, he lets them out into the woodland.
Unfortunately, since my borders are hedges with big gaps, the chooks assume my land is fair game.
So I get guerilla bands of marauding chooks invading my garden, creating loads of noise as several large Rhode Island Red cockerels strut their stuff in front of matronly white Wyandottes. They are converting some of the lawn into bare chicken-run status and take great delight in scratching out all the écorcées de pin that I've spread around the arbustes as mulch against the summer sun.
Now simple complaints are unlikely to work, this chap turns a deaf ear to all; in any case this is the one who was imprisoned for shooting at people! In any case I don't want to be lumped with the urban Brits who move to the country and then complain about cockerels crowing.
So I've been adopting passive defence measures.
Training the trio of cats as a pack of chook hunter/killers was a total waste of time. Chooks are placed firmly in the category of Birds That Are Too Big For Us To Chase Unless We Follow Daddy As Back-up.
So I've devised a variety of cup-shaped chicken-wire containers, placed on weed-proof membrane, held down with tent pegs and wrapped around the shrub, then filled with a layer of pine-bark. I've put a decorative wire fence to stop them jumping on the spare bedroom window cill and pooing on it.
But I've still got the packs of clucking Henriettas and crowing Kokericous, which poo on the paths, cluck off when chased, then stand off at a distance crowing triumphantly, only to return as soon as my back is turned!
I don't want to have to buy a couple of hundred metres of chicken wire and posts high enough to stop a chook with unclipped wings.
Is there a chance they might suddenly be eaten? Please?
I dare not mention the D.O.G word; the pussy cats would never agree to that!
Can you get ultrasonic chook jammers? Trained hunter/killer foxes?
Biological warfare ordnance filled with bird flu?
The other day I went to stroke Henri IV, sunning himself on the yard by the stone wall. As I approached him a big, feather-knickered chook launched herself from a patch of hypericum with a chorus of emergency warning clucks. On investigating said hypericum patch, I found that said chook had been sitting on about 10 eggs, all toasty warm and, in view of the presence of the cockerels, probably fertilised. As I had no way of telling if they were edible, and leaving them there would just encourage Mme Henrietta to return, they were thrown down the hill. Later on I saw Mme Henrietta looking for her eggs - ooh the guilt!
The sea was indeed the deepest azure when we drove into La Croix-Valmer, near St Tropez and Cavalaire after one of those easy but long journeys that emphasise just how big France is; 670 km east from Tessel Bas. Our accommodation - recommended - was chosen from the Gites de France Chambre d'Hotes book and is called La Sultanine - it was set in the hills overlooking the sea, an old vigneron's property, surrounded by vines that were bursting forth in the hot Spring sun. Clearly there is a market for such properties that combine peace and tranquillity with a high standard of accommodation - in my view far preferable to a hotel.
We dined in Cavalaire after an apero overlooking the Marina; I was last there in 1966 and was amazed at the change!
Christine's birthday dawned hot and sunny; she wanted to go to Monaco, so we drove along the Corniche de l'Esterel before bypassing the sprawl of Cannes and Nice on the spectacular A8, then zooming down into Monaco. We lunched in a pleasant restaurant before wandering around this upwardly-growing but still clean and attractive principality. The Casino Square still had its magic, with the Rolls-Royces, Ferraris and Aston-Martins being valet parked and the celebs being watched by crowds of gapers, including us! Yours truly tried to get into the casino but was firmly repulsed because of inappropriate dress (shorts). Christine thought it was just recompense for the time she wasn't allowed in the Duomo in Venice because of bare arms!
In several places progress was impeded by the piles of Armco being fitted to contain the high-speed machinery for the F1 Grand Prix at the end of May. Back for dinner in Cavalaire - we could only manage a small pizza! Next day was a local sight-seeing day; the old village of Grimaud, Cogolin, La Mole and lunch in Bormes-les-Mimosas, with its colourful market. Then along the Corniche des Maures and up to Ramatuelle overlooking St Tropez. Our drive home was uneventful; as always it was good to get back to Tessel Bas where my vine on the pergola is now bursting forth too!
We had a lovely day - Sainte Colombe en Bruilhois is a picturesque village overlooking Agen from a high and very scenic vantage point, and is thus A Very Desirable Place To Live for the Agenais middle class. The vide-grenier had a typical load of unwantable tat, but the village was sweet and the atmosphere was right. We drove to Nérac, which was "en fete" but shut for lunch - they had got over their Spanish-style cow-running (bulls are too macho for 47), and there wasn't much going on, so we carried on to Vianne. That place always reminds me of Juliette Binoche in Joanne Harris's "Chocolat"; the book was set in this area and Binoche's character is called "Vianne Rocher". It has the benefit of a more-or-less intact rampart around the bastide, and a nice restaurant in which we shared some big, succulent gambas avec sauce provençale; a simple, but enjoyable day in weather that became bright and sunny, fresh, but never hot.
We've just returned from my engineers and partners' group visit to the Toulouse Blagnac Airbus facility - over 40 delegates and others were involved. On Friday we had an interesting morning lecture on the A380 in the hotel salle de réunion, followed by an afternoon touring the A330/340/380 final assembly buildings. From a distance the A380 looks very much like any other modern jetliner, but at close quarters, when the scale of the thing becomes apparent, only one adjective comes to mind: "mind-boggling". The same adjective applies to the scale of the production facilities - assembly jigs and the hangars that house them - and the production rates - up to one per working day from the A330/340 line.
In the evening we had a dinner at which the British Consul to Toulouse gave an address. Saturday was intended to feature a walking tour around old Toulouse, which was unfortunately cancelled due to the torrential rain, and we postponed yet again a visit to the Cité de l'Espace on Sunday, so we were able to return to Tessel Bas today, Saturday, reprieve the pussy cats from the cattery and empty the rain gauge (36mm of rain recorded).
It is satisfying to have successfully organised hotels, rooms, meals and coach in a large French city 150 km from Tessel Bas.
Looking for an Airbus joke to tell at the dinner I keyed "Airbus" and "Joke" into Google, however most hits were "Airbus is a joke" mutterings - mainly written by Boeing employees!
However I did like the apocryphal story of the rich American who wanted an A380 to take his family, sycophants and other hangers-on to the ski slopes. He asked Airbus whether the A380 could land at the little strip at Aspen, Colorado. The answer came back; "Yes - but only once!"
Some real stories taken from the first few pages of my Daily Torygraph (Friday's edition):
DoH spends 29.5 Million pounds on training anti-smoking enforcers.
"Show of Hands" disadvantages shy children claims Min of Ed.
Firemen carpeted for sleeping on floor not £400 official chairs.
Children banned from playing in the street, as it is "a danger to the public".
RSPB bans as "unacceptable" use of "cock" to describe a male bird.
Teachers object to frisking pupils for weapons.
Credit card companies write off 3.1 billion pounds of debt.
Older Tesco employees are being taught "teen speak" such as "phat = very good".
- I think I bailed out just in time!
FWIW I had a go at designing one myself; I'm afraid it wasn't inspired by graffiti artists, nor is it the least bit trendy. Probably just what you'd expect from someone who's a little past athletics! You might stll be able to see it here.
When I last checked it was 9th in popularity out of nearly 300 designs!
The problem has (almost) gone away. Le Fou du Village, it appears, has fallen on Hard Times. He has sold his car and has been seen on a bicycle. An estate agent's notice has appeared in front of his Still Life Sculpture depicting the Angst of the Throwaway Society, in exactly the same spot where I wanted to put up a big notice saying "DECHETTERIE".
He has been seen carrying plucked chooks from garden to kitchen, so the chook nuisance has slowly been eaten.
In parallel with this a certain resident of Tessel Bas has refurbished his BSA Airsporter Mk I air gun, belonging to his dad as a young man. He has also discovered that 5.5 mm plombs are an exact replacement for 0.22" and readily available in France. Despite the fact that such weapons in the UK need a Fire Arms Certificate, he also knows from his teens that chooks hit on the wing get a nasty shock but don't die.
So trespassing chooks have been actively discouraged. Also the said Fou du Village appears to have been away for a few days, his father has looked after the patch, and the gate to the chookery hasn't been left open.
We've bought a new tent! Peter's coming out in early July; we thought it would be nice to go to the Pyrénées, maybe some of the Ski resorts we know such as Cauterets or Barèges and see and walk them without the white stuff. But we needed at least a three-berth tent, so we've bought a nice Maréchal dome tent with a double bedroom at either end of a space in which one can stand. A trial erection on the park resulted in some cursing of the fibreglass poles, but it'll be all right on the day!
Remember my crowing about my "Sangha" Bluetooth dongle manufactured in the Peoples Republic of China and on sale from Auchan for 9 eurines? Well I should have taken note of the Bill Gates warning about the lack of signature on the drivers; one of the drivers (the serial port) wouldn't install properly and kept nagging with the "new hardware" prompt on boot-up. So I uninstalled it, the nag persisted. I reinstalled it, same problem, so I uninstalled and tried a system restore, which didn't work. So I restored the C drive from my Maxtor 300GB back-up to a restore point set by Norton Ghost on Wednesday morning, having copied all my emails and recent work to a 1GB USB storage key. After the usual nail-biting as the entire hard drive is re-written, it came up fresh and uncontaminated by devilish, oriental Bluetooth software. But I was quite encouraged by the ability to transfer files between the PC and the phone, for photographs and names & numbers. So I've ordered a new Belkin dongle on-line from FNAC, twice the price but one hopes with certified software. Anyone want a free Sangha Bluetooth dongle?
We've just returned from a couple of nights in the Pyrénées, camping with son Peter. We camped at Baréges, which was interesting as it is a resort we know, but only for the winter skiing. For once the weather was lovely and we had a pleasant journey down the N21, then approaching Baréges from the La Mongie direction over the Col de Tourmalet, which is normally closed in winter.
The camp site was pleasant and clean, with lovely views of the mountains; Tessel Bas III was quickly deployed despite the terrain that needed rock drills for the tent pegs. We found a pleasant restaurant for dinner, but found the evening temperature at 1250 metres didn't allow a prolonged nightcap under the stars, so we had an early appointment with the duvets!
Next morning the sky was a beautiful clear blue as I walked along the rushing river to the boulangerie for our croissants; later we drove back over the Col de Tourmalet and caught the cable car from La Mongie to the Pic du Midi . Words can't do justice to the views of snow-capped mountains, and there were also some interesting astronomy presentations. After lunch in La Mongie we drove back to the top of the Col du Tourmalet and put the walking boots on for a few kilometres towards the Pic du Midi; it was particularly interesting to get a birds-eye view of the pistes with which we were so familiar, now stripped of their manteau de neige. We also watched some tandem parapentes taking punters for what must be thrilling flights, suspended from a few metres of thin fabric, down to Turnaboup. All this exercise made dinner at a local restaurant go down very well; this night it was warm enough to sit outside until bedtime. We drove home via Lourdes for a change, through a belt of cloud in the lee of the mountains and into a very hot Lot & Garonne baking in the low 30s. A very enjoyable couple of days, which I'd recommend to anyone.
Peter Gillis got a BA (Hons) (upper 2nd) in photography at Anglia Ruskin College, Cambridge, despite being deserted by his awful parents.
He's chuffed with himself and I can indulge in a "Dat's my boy" moment!
At Tessel Bas the minor refurbishments/routine maintenance on the petit dépendance continued; before fitting the new door made from old planks I got the cement mixer out and rendered the ugly wall made of concrete parpaings with a white cement/lime/sand mixture. Amazingly it all stuck to the wall; in my humble opinion this sort of rendering is one of the most difficult building jobs - you have to have exactly the correct mix so that it smooths on nicely and doesn't fall off. It still looks a little patchy as there are other bits of render in a different colour, so I intend to crepi it all and maybe spray it with ton pierre facade paint if it's too bright and white. This afternoon I cut down some rampant evergreen hedge stuff, some of which was forcing itself up between the edge tiles, then replaced a few cracked tiles with spares thoughtfully left by the previous owner. Dinner on the patio with the evening sun and a balmy breeze was sheer bliss!
Today's DIY was to clear all the moss off the tiles of the petit dépendance using the power washer. Yet again I was disappointed at the actual performance of the thing. Yes, it would almost drill holes in the tiles in needle-jet mode - I've found in the past that there's no problem in taking the paint off a Land Rover's wheels, but it leaves the mud on the bodywork to the application of elbow grease. Yes it would blast any moss into smithereens. But to cover a reasonable area quickly means that you have to adjust the jet into a fan shape, so it doesn't remove the moss so quickly, and it leaves the bits of moss sitting on the roof.
So I tried just the hosepipe to wash the detritus into the gutters - it takes an age and is puny compared to a good French thunderstorm. So I've left it to God to finish clearing the roof. Large orage, please God, centred on the roof, thanks mate!
In the meantime I got thoroughly roasted in the sun pirouetting about the roof, so I Karchered the sun lounger and when dry kept the cushions from floating into the air by doing a little Egyptian PT for an hour before apero time..........
I've finished tarting up the little outbuilding; it sits in view of the lounge window, so I've rendered and crepied the ugly parpaings and clad the old iron door with wood planks (it now weighs a ton and getting both hinges in line when re-hanging it was a real effort!).
To add a little floral relief, I’ve planted Campsis; I'd never heard of it before, but I’d seen the exotic flowers and liked them. I looked them up and wasn't sure about some aspects; they can grow to 15m and they prefer a south or west aspect; my wall faces east. I found the BBC plant finder website and entered in all the parameters that were important to me; climber, floral, evergreen, partial shade, chalky soil, hardy, easy to grow, and it had only one suggestion, Clematis Cirrhosa, which seemed oddly appropriate!
So I jumped into the car and toured the local nursery, ending up making a decision which I kid myself was based on a rational evaluation of competing factors, ending up with a sensible and optimised choice, but which was more likely due to a need to justify the journey with a purchase of some kind. I looked at all the chèvrefeuilles and remembered that honeysuckle is lovely when it's flowering and perfumed, but it's messy when not. The Campsis ("Bignone" in French) looked in good condition, with fresh, vigorous-looking shoots and flower buds. And it was cheap, and with its aerial roots I won't have to put up a trellis for it. So I bought two; a Campsis Grandiflora in a nice pink & white, and an exotic orange Campsis Mme Galen (Taglibuana). Honi soit qui mal y pense! If it gets out of hand I'm now a dab hand at the chain saw!
So they are both now "blotti" at the foot of my wall, sitting in most of a bag of soaked terreau, preparing to take over Tessel Bas in a riot of blooms!
I’ve found that the Villeneuve market spice lady sells tandoori marinade mix, so left a few pieces of poulet jaune marinading in the frigo in a tandoori mix/yoghurt mixture until this evening. The Weber isn't exactly a tandoor, but it makes an excellent imitation; I cooked the pieces indirectly over the drip pan, then put them over the charcoal to colour them. Only 50 minutes from lighting to cooked! Served with a mint and cucumber raita, basmati rice and a marmande tomato salad, washed down with an ice-cold rosé and serenaded by nightingales in stereo - absolute magic!
I took a garden chair, cushion, cool beer and "La Depêche du Midi" to a little spot on the prom where a cool draught comes from under the big tilleul, feeding the thermal that rises from the south-facing slope. It's hell, but someone has to do it! Today I've been doing my shutter-management bit to keep the house cool for this afternoon's labour of seeing if Lewis can get past that snide Fernando while not capitalising on the secret Ferrari dossier! And drinking more beer, of course, since that's what blokes do. I just hope Xine remembers her Aussie training......
It was good to see Lewis win, but I'd like to have seen a fair battle between him and Alonso; it was a McClaren problem that should have been fixed by Ron Dennis, not the stewards. Nevertheless Kimi chasing Lewis and Alonso chasing Heidfeld gave the punters their money's worth. Going outside afterwards was like walking into an oven; 25°C inside and 36°C outside - I dead-headed a few roses and gerania and gave up. Is it just my perception, or are geraniums giving a poor show this year? Tonight was the first time we've dined indoors because it was too hot outside. Maybe the extra 200mm of isolation in the grenier helped, but it was still 33°C at 20:00 and a blissful 24°C inside. Those felines with quatre pattes and fur coats didn't know what to do with themselves. The sky has clouded and the weather seems unstable; tomorrow is forecast to be cool and damp, so there is bound to be a violent change from one weather-set to the next. Just please send some rain; the ground is already cracking and the grass is brown.
My lovely sat-nav lady, who I adore, delivered me unerringly to the rue du Quarante Journaux, Bordeaux-Lac, and I joined the happy throng searching for Smogbrod soup bowls and Bjorn backscratchers. I was seeking several, simple, spun-metal luminaires for my barn rewiring project. Unfortunately they were out of stock of the €3.50 one, but the €9 ones were nicer and still affordable. So I bought two sealed boxes with 6 "Foto" luminaires each, plus a bushel of 15W ES fluorescent energy-savers at a reasonable €4 each. Xine even managed to find some chair cushions to fit our Ikea Melbourne "Rebecca" dining chairs. The poor check-out chick was rather harassed and had to deal with an Ikea newby who didn't know he couldn't take his yellow bag outside but had to put it in the bin and buy a blue Ikea bag or be thrashed naked with birch twigs in the snow. Then she left half of my purchases on the conveyor belt and I paid in two lots, so things were a little fraught! So it wasn't until I got home I checked the chitties and realised that she'd scanned the barcode on each box and hadn't multiplied by 6. So my luminaires cost me €1.50 each! And the sat-nav chick guided me gently and persuasively back to the Pont d'Aquitaine and home, without getting lost in the car park or having to make any U-turns as soon as possible!
Eventually the sun burned the mizzle away and we had a very pleasant afternoon. Not that I saw a lot of it - I've now installed all the interrupteurs and all the prises de courant and 8 of my beaucoup moins chères IKEA lumières. Getting a little fed up with propping the ladder against the chevronnage, recognising that a slip of the base of the ladder will send me basculant par terre which is 5 - 6 metres below! With two power circuits and two lighting circuits fed from the MCBs on the consumer unit it's on a par with rewiring a small house. All I've got to do now is wire the things up!
I was walking the cats last night, when there was an almighty "swish and booomp" in the wood, followed by a mass scramble of indignant birds and much waving of branches. On investigation (in sandals and shorts and hence now suffering from nettle stings and bramble scratches) I found that a substantial beech tree had fallen, all by itself. There was not a breath of wind. I am at a loss to understand why it happened, and unnerved to realise that it fell over the path I take for my woodland walk on occasions. I examined the root ball and it was fairly insubstantial and wrapped around a big limestone boulder. My theory is that, as it was leaning, the top growth finally got too heavy for the root system and the tree just expired. More wood for the chainsaw!
The Tessel Bas status report follows:
Alert State Green; no terrorist threats but some minor scuffles caused by the refusal of sex-crazed nubile young ladies to form an orderly queue. The chicken threat has returned, with a number of tree-climbing poules eating the figs that are destined for this year's chutney. Countermeasures using a .22" air rifle have been only partially effective.
Magic, Henri IV and Gaby are enjoying the été indien but missing a warm lap at East Enders' time.
Alert State Amber; minor temporary unserviceabilities due to barn wiring replacement, resulting in facility loss at planned times. The wood store, garage, goat room and terrace are now supplied with electricity from the new 32 Amp breaker in the sous-sol consumer unit which is now feeding the garage consumer unit with its two 16 Amp power circuits and two 10 Amp lighting circuits. The barn system has been changed from an old tatty system with a feed to the new lighting circuit to a new fully-protected power and lighting circuit for the garage with a lash-up to keep the old lights going in the barn while the wiring progresses.
Stupéfiants zero, but routine monitoring reports a high ethyl alcohol ingestion in the porcherie personnel, clearly due to immoderate consumption of vin rouge. Some toxic gas emission owing to the high lentil count in the ready-meal used for dinner.
Barn wiring personnel to be congratulated on good progress, but porcherie group monitoring requires ongoing observation lest wild behaviour becomes a problem.
I've spent yet another day peering out at the lovely sunshine outside from the inside of the barn, relieved only by the occasional opportunity to take a pot-shot at the trespassing, noisy, figophageous cockerel and his harem. Most of the morning was spent designing the va et vient circuit for the central area of the barn so as to minimise the use of cable, then working out how I could make the connections in the boites de dèrivation with ladders placed so that I have two hands free to make the connections while holding on to the ladder with my knees. The remainder of the day was spent removing the old wiring. I now have enough bell wire to fill a telephone museum. My barn rewiring project encompasses some 12 power points, over 20 luminaires and two power circuits and two lighting circuits and an associated tableau électrique and wouldn't disgrace a largish house. It will probably take me the equivalent of two weeks of hard work to finish it. A fit young man and his mate with previous experience could probably more than halve that time.
Gaby, normally the fittest and most lively, became very sleepy and appeared to have a sore tum. Yet she was still eating, but immediately afterwards went back to sleep. The vet found that she was running a temperature and suggested a kidney infection. She had an antibiotic injection and was much better by the evening. I was very glad because had she not got better her symptoms could have been those of poisoning - and I'd been putting stuff down for the loirs in the barn! I'd kept the cats out but found the occasional half-eaten loir.
There's a recipe for fig chutney here .
I've tried that too. It also includes some notes on keeping or bottling at the end. I've always bottled mine using hot sterilised jars and not had a mouldy jar yet. None of the recipes describe the state the figs should be in. I find the best state is when they have turned a purpley colour but are still firm and can be picked with a firm twist. If you wait until they are very sweet and gooey they won't retain their shape when pickling, so you get a homogeneous jam. I took time out from the rewiring project to enjoy the superb weather and pick a bucket-full of figs. Unfortunately I found that all my jars are full of pickled walnuts, so I have to go and buy some jars (and onions etc.) before I can get pickling. Maybe we can convert the French to pickling? Or am I just being pickley?
Got the jars this morning, and some dénoyauté prunes - I thought that "Fig and Prune Chutney" sounded sort of "menu du terroir"!. It should certainly be good for clearing any problems with constipation. I was looking forward to using the lovely French-made solid-copper jam kettle; previously I'd used an aluminium jam-kettle belonging to my mother but I'd heard that the Alzheimers is less severe with copper.
What was I saying?
Ah, yes, I used several recipes and adapted them to choose the best bits. The reducing of the syrup was something that I skimped last time and the chutney was a little sloppy. However this time I made the reduction to 2/3rds; it was just a question of waiting. I used 7Kg of Figs, 1.5Kg of brown sugar, 500g of prunes. Magically they made only 5Kg of Chutney. Go "fig"ure! All this domesticity has introduced a further delay into the Barn Rewiring Project. But it'll still be there tomorrow.
I had a hard day today; to accommodate the new cabling I had to remove all the old wiring and its little additions made from bell wire and little bits of cracked flex (shudder!). This meant that I had no lights, so I had to rig up temporary feeds to the existing lights. Then I completed the wiring of the luminaires and added the va et vient navettes and an extra wire to feed non-switched live to further circuits. There was a useless outside bulkhead light which I replaced with a 500W projector and an inside warning light. Came my knocking-off time at 1900 and I thought "Shall I test the circuits or switch on and tune for maximum smoke". I switched on the breaker - and everything worked as it should. I decide that I was too knackered to go to the play tonight at the foyer rurale and was subsequently heartened/discouraged to find that it had actually been presented yesterday evening instead. It's me age!
Anyway, it's the local vide grenier tomorrow! Gosh, can my social life get any better?
I did took a stroll, when completely dark, into the barn, switching on the garage lights, then the main bit of the barn and then the atelier end. Today I've wired in the extra lights over the workbench; two strip fluorescents and a fitting with double 15W low energy bulbs, so the lights were burning me bleedin eyes out, so they were, guvnor! As the pièce de résistance I looked out of the main barn doors and switched on the outside light - marvellous; it's at the apex of the gable end to the barn and is some 6 metres high, so it puts a good level of light at floor level. It doesn't have a PIR (Passive Infra-Red) detector - I've got those in the security lighting around the house. This one, without the PIR, was very cheap. As a "voyant" to tell me if it is left on I've wired in an internal bulkhead fitting - the little voyants in the switches - be they on when the light is on or vice versa - are easy to miss. After over a week's work, I deserve to be able to play with my handiwork!
I got a "Satisfactory" for house cleanliness, bed making, laundry and airport taxi. The welcome-home dinner, however, got an "A*"! I wanted to ensure that she was suitably in-duck-trinated into the South West of France, so my menu was heavily in to duck and figs. Menu was Tomates mozzarella aux figues fraîches (I used little alongée cherry tomatoes and shaved parmesan instead of mozzarella) and Aiguillettes de canard aux figues et au porto. (I used red port so the cream sauce was a little pink!) Pud was sliced brugnons with (home grown) dessert grapes, dusted with a little fine sugar and sprinkled with chopped basil.
I've just come back from a lovely walk, run by 47's CDRP (Comité Départmental de la Randonnée Pédestre). The real walkers did 37 km from Agen to Pujols; those who are getting on a bit only did 8 km from the local caves at the Grottes de Lastournelles. I was running in a rather game knee that had suffered in the barn rewiring (I stepped off the bottom step of a ladder only to find it was the second-from-bottom step). It twinged on the way down the first hill but performed pretty well when warmed up. The walk was mainly on tracks and green roads, with almost no bitumen. Skirting the lake at Ste Colombe it climbed and passed through the village then went through lovely countryside on GR652 before a stiff climb to Pujols. It was so nice to get a new perspective on my area and to find what lovely views there are only minutes from home. The weather was very mild and the morning mist lifted to give us some pleasant sunshine. I've had a nice shower and am ready for dinner and a doze!
Today I lashed up a system for 35mm slide copying; I got a sheet of white polystyrene foam and illuminated it with 4 x 100W bulbs and took a photo of the slide mounted close to my Nikon Coolpix 995. I found the latter gave the best white balance if I used the Nikon's facility for measuring and pre-setting the white balance. The slides were mounted in a slide carrier close to the Coolpix which has a very short macro capability and back-lit by the bright polystyrene board. I used the zoom controls to frame the picture, then took it using one-shot auto-focus. I imported them into Picasa, cropped them for 15mm x 10mm and used the "feeling lucky" fix for the colour and exposure, adjusted the highlights and added a title and keywords for searches. I was impressed with Picasa's ability to take the output of faded positives almost 40 years old and produce a reasonable result. Using the camera plus Picasa's user-friendly adjusting tools means that the process is quite quick; if, like me, you've got hundreds of slide to process, a quick process is important. With the keywords, I can search for sets of pictures and create virtual albums of theme-related pictures and for my kids I can burn a CD/DVD of viewer-specific albums.
Coldest morning yet (2°C) but lovely sunshine - don't know whether to go to the Foire d'Automne at Villeneuve or the Foire des Vins et Fromages at Le Temple sur Lot. Embarrassement de richesse! Yesterday I started the précautions anti-gel - I planted the tropical hibiscus and the lantana at the foot of a south-facing stone wall; the theory being that if it's frosty it's usually sunny so the stone will store some heat. I also wrapped the hibiscus in a cylinder of bubble-wrap. The lantana will probably be levelled by frost but may stay alive and come up in the spring like a fuschia. Talking of which I planted a fuschia from a hanging basket in the border.
I've just done some Googling and found that my acacias aren't! They're Robinia Pseudoacacia, the Black Locust Tree. However the wood is hard, beautiful, rot proof if a little brittle and it grows quickly - 40ft in 20 years. It's apparently much used for vine stakes, which probably explains its presence here.
See British Trees
There's a good picture of the flowers here.
What a wonderful source of info is the Internet!
After a summer of not sharing the house with "that kitten", our "black" Magic has finally deigned to enter the house and avail herself of warm laps and warm human underblankets. "That kitten" (Gaby) has resisted sharing "her" humans with "that snooty old English dowager". However, with temperatures approaching freezing point last night both cats made it up and availed themselves of the biologically-heated couette. Henri IV, the rangey mangey male, stayed out and is growing his "lion in winter" mane to keep him warm. No frost here yet but it won't be long. I haven't brought the pelargonia in; most don't survive anyway and I always have to buy fresh ones.
My Norton Internet Security at last ran out of subscription. I'd decided to go with AVG Free, so I un-installed Norton and downloaded AVG Free. It loaded and installed OK and ran its virus check over everything; including the 300GB separate HD which took forever. Then I discovered that since Yahoo now use SSL security on its up and down links, the email scanning didn't work.
I did a little research in the help pages and found that I needed to create a couple of local servers, so that the email scanning could take place between the local server and the email client. Did that, but it didn't work. Tried everything to no avail. I'd had this sort of thing with Grisoft before, when its Internet Security suite wouldn't work with Onspeed.
I un-installed AVG Free and loaded Avast 4.7 Home Edition (also free), about which I'd read good things. Set it all up, ran the virus check, then found that it didn't seem to work as the email client (Thunderbird) kept asking for the access password. Tried it on the laptop - exactly the same. Went and walked the cats for some sunshine and thought. Came back to the desktop, which was now fully functional and much faster than with Norton - the problem had been a Yahoo glitch. All the test messages I'd sent up the pipe came flooding in. Before adding a Firewall other than the Windows Firewall, I checked out the system using the Symantec Security check here. It passed with flying colours due to the hardware firewall in the modem/router, so I dispensed with Zone Alarm which only gets in the way of my network configuration. So now I'm using Avast - which seems OK so far; it comes with an irritatingly trendy "car radio" control panel, but there are more sober "skins" available for free download.
An 8am start meant we sailed through the Bordeaux rocade as the morning peak was over. The A10 was empty so I set a reassuringly legal 130kph on the cruise control and cruised - admiring the slow change in the exceptionally wonderful autumn colours as we went North. At Tessel Bas the oaks were still green but an hour or so north of Bordeaux they had turned a lovely yellow in the morning sunlight.
I'd decided to use the A10 to Tours and the A28 to Alençon and then take advantage of the new A28 to Rouen. It was a success and I'll definitely use it again - apart from the usual slog through the Sotteville marshalling yards in Rouen, it's autoroute virtually all the way. However the sat-nav didn't agree, it wanted to send me via the A20 and the Paris péripherique, so I put a waypoint on the autoroute outside Alençon to force it to use the Rouen route. But "Garbage In, Garbage Out" prevailed and I had inadvertently marked the wrong carriageway, so the Nice Lady in the sat-nav kept trying to make me leave the autoroute and rejoin in the opposite direction, so I could get to the same point, but on the other carriageway. Fortunately I'd read the map as well and she doesn't get upset when told to shut up.
I entered the Ibis at Abbeville as the new destination, but north of Alençon was new road, so the position marker flew over the virgin fields and the Nice Lady remained resolutely silent after saying "Please follow the arrows on the display", which is a sat-nav euphemism for "I'm lost".
We got to Abbeville Ibis Hotel in 8 hours including a lunch stop, in time for a walk around the local Géant before dinner, which was un-memorable at best. I tried the laptop on the hotel wi-fi but got only a weak signal so I didn't pay for the Orange gateway.
From Abbeville to Boulogne is an easy 50 mins along the A28/A16, scenic autoroutes that I've never seen crowded. We were crossing via a Speedferries catamaran, which was a first for me. I'd set the Speedferries location into the Sat-nav, but on the way there I saw a sign saying "SeaCat" pointing in the opposite direction, which I ignored but which caused me to doubt the Nice Lady and her directions. Oh ye of little faith! We got to the terminal and saw the big "Car Ferry" signs but failed to see the (rather small) Speedferries signs; not wanting to join the wrong queue I went off in search of the SeaCat, which directed us into downtown Boulogne. Finally I concluded that the Nice Lady was right after all, we rejoined the queue and then saw The Sign!
I'd use Speedferries again - they were quick and cheap, but next time I'd buy the British Rail Sandwich elsewhere. As a big car we were sent into the bowels of the catamaran, but unloading was nevertheless quick and efficient and we were soon on the M20.
I set the cruise control to 110kph but soon disengaged it as I was just not keeping up with the traffic. Once more I was disturbed by the 80mph car park called the M25 and I found the steering wheel twitching as we passed the A12 turn-off to Essex and felt quite philosophical to realise that somewhere I'd spent my whole working life had so little appeal for me.
We made good time to Simon and Sara's home in Stilton, south of Peterborough; granddaughter Millie has grown such a lot, as has Sara's new bump!
Sunday was our wedding anniversary, so we had a romantic "Sunday-Shopping" trip out to PC World (bought a Belkin 802.11n1 wi-fi modem-router). Peter joined us for lunch in the Bell Inn in Stilton (nice beer and I had a plough-persons lunch with guess-what cheese?).
That evening we took everyone out for a pizza. - Monday was spent shopping again - necessary visits to my bank and a statutory pilgrimage to M&S and B&Q.
Peter's graduation day started early for us, as we had the A14 to negotiate to get to Cambridge. The weather was bright and sunny and Cambridge's ancient stones were at their best as we crossed Parker's Piece to the presentation hall, pausing for Peter to pick up his expensively hired academic dress. For a newish university, Anglia Ruskin put on a suitably impressive display of pomp and ceremony, the colours of the gowns and caps made a bright parterre in the stage lighting. Various Deans and Vice Chancellors made long speeches and Quentin Blake the writer and illustrator was given an honorary doctorate.
With over three hundred graduands the presentation of awards took a long time; fortunately Peter was early in the list, before we succumbed to clapping fatigue.
After the ceremony we returned across Parker's Piece to the ancient breeze-blocks of Anglia Ruskin and a marquee which served us with canapés and bubbly (orange juice for the driver, snort!).
We partook of a celebratory lunch at Chez Gérard (good quality food and service and a bottle of wine for just over £25 a head, which I thought was good value).
I found the whole experience very satisfying; the English are good at ceremony and the whole affair was an impressive punctuation mark in our lives and in Peter's career. It was well worth that long drive to feel so proud.
And next day the long drive started at 7am as we aimed for the mid-day Speedferry, making it without contretemps on the M25 and with lots of time to spare, looking forward to our trip down to Provence, first stop Nuits St Georges.
Of the 50 delegates and partners registered for the ICE/IET weekend at Aix en Provence, 31 wore the “Electricals” cap badge and 19 from the “Civils”, including the ICE Senior Vice President. Of these 22 were also members or partners from Engineers of South West France, so my group was well represented.
The main attraction on Friday for the engineers was the ITER fusion reactor site at Cadarache, whereas some of the partners opted for alternative power shopping in Aix and a tour of Cézanne's studio and Mt Victoire .
A short and pleasant drive took us through Provençal countryside resplendent in its autumn colours to the Cadarache facility. There we were treated to a fascinating ITER project presentation by the senior scientist, followed by a tour of the fully functional Tore Supra toroidal plasma fusion reactor. We were able to see the control room and observe one of a series of test "burns" by the reactor, and to inspect one of the super-conducting electro-magnet field coils.
After a pleasant lunch in the charming Château de Cadarache we had further presentations on the ITER tokamak and the civil engineering aspects of the project.
We were thus very well received and given excellent presentations by senior project staff. I won't dwell on the technical aspects, most of which can be gleaned by those interested from the excellent website.
My personal impressions were firstly surprise that the fusion reactor was no longer a laboratory oddity; it has moved into reality with the JET reactor in the UK, the Tore Supra reactor which maintains the burn for minutes rather than fractions of a second , and other systems in Europe, the USA and Japan. I was reassured that the system is no more than a very sophisticated kettle whose fuel can be switched off, that this fuel is easily sourced at negligible cost and in sufficient quantity and that there is no mass of reactive material to convert Provence into a black hole when things go wrong. Even the amount of radioactive waste on decommissioning is tens of thousand times less than a pressurised water reactor.
The scale of the engineering required and the technical challenge of structures having temperature gradients from hundreds of millions of degrees to near absolute zero in a few metres amazed me. It seems to me that energy economy programmes and carbon-neutral energy schemes can only be a temporary palliative, that some form of nuclear energy offers the only viable solution to man's hunger for power sources and that fusion offers a relatively clean alternative to fission.
The Gala Dinner that evening ensured that the Parisian element was suitably restored by our campagnards' staple diet of foie gras, boeuf, cèpes and crottin de chèvre. The usual speeches were made and everyone thanked everyone else.
On Saturday we went to Toulon, now joined by the partners, for a somewhat resigned but pragmatic presentation of the problems of driving a second autoroute tunnel, parallel to the first, under the centre of Toulon, through strata that would make a Christmas pudding look homogeneous, together with all the constraints of French urban planning and at the same time avoiding shaking too many buildings to bits.
Work over, the weekend's relaxation started with a cable car ride to the summit of Mt Faron and lunch at the appropriately-named Réstaurant Panoramique with its view of Toulon and its naval port, followed by a look in the military museum commemorating the Allied landings on the south coast of France in 1944.
Back to Toulon and off through the Gorge d'Ollioules to the Bandol wine valley for a wine tasting at the Château de Vannières. - Sunday's destination was the Luberon (Mayle Watching?), driving through wonderful autumn scenery to Lourmarin, Bonnieux and Roussillon. The latter has an interesting walk through an old red ochre quarry, which I saw as a personal challenge and did the 50 minute walk in 25, so I wouldn't miss the excellent lunch in the Réstaurant David. The afternoon saw us driving through Gordes to Coustellet and its Lavender Museum, before dropping the northerners off at the Gare TGV and Aeroport de Marseilles.
Sunday evening saw a hard core of gourmands and ivrognes celebrating "schools out" by tackling the Formule €22 (deux plats et une bouteille du vin) in the "Le Passage" restaurant. - All in all an excellent and fascinating .
I've just driven about 3,500 km in the last fortnight, on French and English roads. It was an interesting opportunity to compare the two countries, particularly after the influence of recently installed speed cameras in France. Almost all my motoring was on autoroutes/motorways. France benefited, of course, from a light traffic load; it was a case of setting the cruise control to 130 km/h and waiting for the destination to arrive.
But in general I was impressed with the standard of French drivers and their awareness of the requirements of safe driving quand on roule à cette vitesse.
England, OTOH, was frightening. I got off the ferry at Dover and set the cruise control to 110 kmh (68 mph) and was left in the slow lane with traffic zooming past. I disengaged it and by keeping up with the traffic was soon up to the speed I've set my speed warning to: 140 kmh (87 mph). Have they abolished the 70 mph limit?
On the dodgy bits of the A14 between the M11 and the A1 the traffic bunched, so one was either stationary or doing 140 km/h. Tailgating wasn't a problem but people forcing their way into the traffic stream was a necessary evil and the 80 mph car park experienced on the M25 was a nightmare. I had to allow 1.5 hours to drive between Stilton south of Peterborough and Cambridge, which my Sat-nav said should take me 17 minutes. Frankly I'd sooner drive in France. Yes, you get the boy racers, but natural selection soon kills them off.
I'm in the process of changing my (rented) modem/router for one I bought in the UK. It's not going smoothly and I'm just hanging on with my fingernails at the moment. It involves ringing one's ISP up for such parameters as Virtual Channel Identifier, Virtual Channel Identifier, Méthode de Multiplexage ou Encapsulation - need I say more? Today I got the router to surf the net and talk wirelessly to the computers, but I can't get the wired connection sorted.
Well, the Sagem stuff is all un-installed and I'm online totally with Belkin. I had a little trouble getting into the router as admin, since it thought some other IP 126.96.36.199 was already there - I concluded that it must have been an aborted wi-fi poke, reset the router and it worked OK.
The range of the thing is more than the 802.111G router, but not much more through damp stone. So I've put the router back in the guest bedroom, where it manages 270Mbps to most of the house and 216Mbps to the Porcherie
We took it upon ourselves to give Peter a little treat, with a trip to Toulouse. Setting off at the crack of sparrows, we had a smooth journey in lovely crisp weather along the autoroute, guided beautifully by the lovely, mellifluous Sat-nav lady who took us to the Park & Ride car park off the péripherique (it even uses the term "P & R"!). After a short trip on the underground, we had a pleasant walk around Toulouse - the market in the Place du Capitole, lunch in one of the restaus above Les Halles (superb quality for 13€), then went to the Cité de L'Espace - curate's egg-ish - the exhibition was generally naff but the Imax presentation and the Mir space station full-size mock-up were impressive. The Park & Ride system worked well - 2.50€ for an underground ticket which lets you out of the car park - we've decided to do it again sometime.
We had a quiet Christmas day, gently boozing and eating - we had freezing fog earlier on but it perked up later on and Peter and I went for a pre-lunch walk.
Our lunch was simple – Oysters Kilpatrick to start, a nice capon with all the trimmings, followed by Christmas pud and brandy butter. Wine was Bourgogne Aligoté with the oysters, Gevrey-Chambertin with the capon and Sauternes with the pud.